Terror at the Mall Review

| October 15, 2014 | 3 Comments

On September 21, 2013, four Islamic terrorists affiliated with al-Shabaab attacked the high-end Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They used grenades and automatic AK47 rifles to kill over 60 people. They murdered men, women, and children, young, old, Christian and Muslim.

Terror at the Mall is an HBO documentary of the attack. It runs almost an hour, yet some parts are so visceral and heartbreaking the film seemed longer. Reports vary on what happened, but HBO was able to get footage from security cameras in the mall.

I think everyone should watch this movie, especially people who carry a gun for self-defense. With increasing calls to arms by ISIS and similar organizations, we might be the first responders to an incident like this in the United States.

There is a lot to learn by watching this movie, including what skills you need to survive a mass shooting incident, and the mindset of different people when confronted by something violent and horrible.

There are “spoilers” in this review regarding the events that day and what happened to the people involved. If you want to observe what happened on your own, come back to this article when you’ve watched the documentary.

The attacks

Ignorance Can Kill You, or someone you love


Our first learning opportunity: know how to treat trauma wounds.

The terrorists threw at least one grenade at a restaurant’s outdoor patio. Many were wounded by this attack.

One survivor and his wife were dining outside when the attack happened. He immediately ran inside the restaurant, stopping to look for her only after he’d made it to safety.

The grenade blast had severely wounded her legs and she was unable to walk. He dragged her into the restaurant and pulled her behind the restaurant’s counter.

After a short period of time a terrorist came into the restaurant and shot them both. The husband was shot in the arm and the leg, neither of which were debilitating. He had no idea what to do, so he watched his wife bleed to death over several hours.

Things to note:

  • You must, must, must learn basic trauma care. The basics are easy to learn, and the equipment is easy to use. Everyone should know rudimentary trauma care. Take classes on it, and read books like Beating the Reaper by Dr. John Meade and “Sua Sponte.”
  • A tourniquet may have slowed the wife’s bleeding so that he could have gotten her to safety. Her wounds kept her from walking, but were not so immediate that she bled to death before he could have done something. She died hours after the attack started.
  • You may be wounded, but you are not out. The man’s mindset kept him from assessing his area, discovering he was safe, and moving himself and his wife away. Even if he was physically unable to move her, he could have gone to get help. He chose to stay there. She died. Don’t be that guy.

Expect Chaos


Second learning opportunity: it’s going to be crowded and crazy.

This is a scene from when the shooting started. People were running different directions at first, but then formed into waves of people rushing for exits.

Things to note:

  • If the picture above was your “view” of the attack, and the person in yellow was a murderer, what would you do? Do you have the training and presence of mind to move so that you aren’t shooting past / over the children? How would you minimize danger to other people in case you miss and/or your rounds go through your target? One of the things that irks me during fight focused training is when students rip off a burst of pistol or rifle fire and are okay with missing half or more of their shots. I hate missing a single shot, and scenes like this explain why.
  • Have you thought about your threshold of acceptable “collateral damage” ahead of time? If the person in yellow had a grenade in their hand, are you willing to risk the lives of the immediate bystanders to save a larger number of people? Where does your morality lie? The time to think about these things is not in the moment.
  • Also, do you have the physical strength and agility to make your way through a crowd? If your loved one is hit and you have to fight your way to them, would you be physically able to do so?
  • Think about the places you normally go. Do you know more than one way out? Do you possess the physical capabilities to make a way out?

Of all the footage we watched, the crowd behavior was the most enlightening and scary to me. We’re going to have to make tough shots to stop the threat. “Be aware of your target and what’s beyond” applies to more than just shooting at a range.


You’re going to have to help yourself

The four terrorists split into pairs. One pair attacked a restaurant and proceeded into the mall’s grocery store. Another pair started their assault by shooting shoppers in their cars. The terrorists encountered a children’s cooking class outside, and started shooting.

The people in the cooking class were close to where local police gathered after the attack started. However, the police were unwilling to enter the mall until more backup arrived, and they didn’t have a plan. Two off-duty law enforcement and two bystanders with carry permits stormed the mall hours (hours!!) before the police and military went in. The heroic efforts by the four men were too late for many. One person wounded in the attack waited over eight hours for medical treatment to arrive.

One of the victims interviewed stated people wondered where the police where, and they expected the police to appear as soon as the incident started.

Things to note:

  • If you’ve taken any kind of fight-focused training you know how quickly incidents can unfold. What kind of damage could you do if you had a rifle and ten minutes to attack people before the police arrived? Five minutes? Two minutes? Even if authorities arrive quickly, their department policy / doctrine may prohibit them from engaging right away.
  • One of my favorite things said by Gabe Suarez is “take your fucking gun with you every fucking where all the fucking time!” What is your comfort zone for carrying in public? What is your comfort zone for carrying in places (like a mall) that don’t allow guns?
  • You know how to treat gunshot wounds, right? One of the people at the cooking event died because she didn’t receive medical attention to the single gunshot wound that was not immediately life threatening. No one was ready to help her. Let’s do better.
  • Do the people you normally travel with know what to do in case of a shooting event? Especially if they are unarmed, do they know to keep far enough away from you to allow you to fight, how to find cover, etc? You are the first responder and the extraction team, do the people around you know how to support you, if not hinder you?
  • Do you know how to fight with a partner? What about a small team of four?
  • Anyone can be a hero. One man saved another man’s life because he applied an improvised dressing and pressure to a chest wound. A woman carried another woman’s child so everyone could run to safety.


Expect longer range engagements

The four badasses who stormed the mall while the police and army waited outside were armed with one AK47 and three handguns. The man with the AK was hit early in the fight and escaped. The terrorists had fully-automatic AK47s.

Things to note:

  • We typically train to stop attackers from 21 feet or less. This is mostly due to the legal requirements for self defense in the United States. When people do carry in public, I estimate 99.9% of them only carry handguns. If you’re preparing for an active shooter incident, you may want to make sure you and the equipment you carry is capable of engaging at larger distances effectively.
  • Pocket handguns such as the North American Arms Guardian (.32 ACP) that I carried when I was much younger are barely acceptable at contact distances, but would be useless during the engagement depicted above. What do you carry on a regular basis? What would it take to enable you to carry a larger handgun?
  • A red dot equipped handgun may help you shoot at longer distances.
  • If you’re reading this blog, you may already do this or are researching how to do this, but a shoulder-fired weapon (preferably in a rifle caliber) is going to give you far more capabilities than any handgun. What do you need to do to carry a better weapon with you in case an active shooter situation occurs?


Terror at the Mall is an absolute must see. It may change your mind about things, such as carrying a firearm and/or a trauma kit everywhere you go. It may help shape where you spend your time. I live in a city with one of the largest malls in the world, in one of the top places for recruiting and fundraising Islamic terrorists in the United States. Before watching this documentary I was reluctant to go that mall. Now I refuse.

ISIS made several claims about “taking the fight” to the United States, and targeting service people. Will they make good on these threats? Will other Islamic terrorist organizations take up ISIS’s call to arms? What about a domestic whack job who decides to light up a movie theater or a Wal-Mart?

We must be prepared. How prepared you choose to be is up to you. I recommend at least a BFM approach to trauma care equipment, and at least a semi-automatic handgun with spare magazines. If you are still only carrying a J-frame in your pocket you need to watch this documentary and rethink your choice.

I also highly recommend you read Killing the Active Shooter by Gabe Suarez and Beating the Reaper by Dr. John Meade and “Sua Sponte.”

Unfortunately, Terror at the Mall is only available on HBO. I really wish HBO would have distributed this hour-long documentary on YouTube — the messages contained within are critical for everyone.

Let’s decide not to be victims. Let’s decide to be a shepherd.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

3 Comments on "Terror at the Mall Review"

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  1. Kyliewyotie says:

    Wow, Thanks for pointing this documentary out. I will absolutely go watch this.

    The idea of practicing longer shots, is one I totally agree with. It is one of the main draws to having an RMR on my Glock, although I practice without it as well.

    When at the range I usually get weird looks for putting the target all the way to the back with my handgun, but practicing that really makes me stress the finer details and only helps the closer stuff as well.

    I also have friends who choose not to carry a firearm, but through some talks they have decided to at least carry a pocket knife, flashlight, and basic trauma kit.

    I believe I am much more likely to use my trauma kit, then my gun.

    Again thanks for having a great sight.

  2. Brian says:

    Thanks for the heads up and review. Eye opening!

  3. BUB says:

    I was able to buy it on Amazon streaming video. Excellent lessons in this film.

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